Marie Curtis, who as reeve of the village of Long Branch from 1953 to 1962 paved its streets and fought the building of the Bloor-Danforth subway line, has died.
Ms. Curtis, a feisty woman whose spirited advocacy for her municipality foreshadowed the careers of municipal leaders like Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion, was one of the few remaining city political figures whose career began before the creation of Metropolitan Toronto in 1954.
A charter member of Metro council, Ms. Curtis died of an apparent stroke on Sunday at age 94 in a nursing home in Markdale, said her daughter, Joan McGee.
"She was absolutely a stormy petrel, as they used to call them in those days. . . . She was a doughty defender of her municipality, no doubt about it," said former Toronto mayor David Crombie. "I'm an old Swansea guy from the waterfront, and Marie Curtis was one of my mom's heroes."
When Ms. Curtis was reeve, the village on Long Branch on the shore of Lake Ontario had a population of only 10,000. Lakeshore Road, now Lakeshore Boulevard, was its main street, recalled Toronto councillor Doug Holyday, whose family settled in the village in 1919.
"You could run into quite a few people on a Saturday and Marie knew just about everybody. Consequently, she was the reeve for nine years there," said Mr. Holyday, the last mayor of Etobicoke before it was amalgamated with Toronto in 1997.
Ms. Curtis and her husband moved to Long Branch in 1935 at the height of the Depression to escape high rents in Toronto. After a term as deputy reeve, she became reeve while the postwar boom was hitting a village that only a few years earlier had given returning Second World War veterans free building lots.
Those were likely lots on unpaved side streets, and one of Ms. Curtis's achievements as reeve was to get sewer lines put in and the roads paved, her daughter said.
"They put in the sewers and they paved the streets and she got them to plant crabapple trees. And every spring, if you drive through Long Branch, there they still are on the edges of the streets," Ms. McGee said.
Soon after Ms. Curtis became reeve, two storms rolled in. One was the 1954 creation of Metropolitan Toronto, an upper-tier supergovernment that controlled and guided the city's postwar expansion.
The Lakeshore communities fought the creation of Metro, and although as reeve of Long Branch Ms. Curtis served on the first Metro council, the fights did not end.
When Metro decided to build an east-west subway line and impose a small property-tax increase to help pay for it, she fought the tax all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.
She paid a price for her opposition to the subway line when she was tossed off Metro's executive committee.
At the time she told a reporter, "I'm in this fight because I think I'm right, and when you are right, you're not doing right by yourself or anyone else if you back down."
The other storm to hit in 1954 was hurricane Hazel. On Oct. 15 that year, after moving up from the United States the storm battered Toronto, killing 81 people and leaving thousands of families homeless. Long Branch was severely flooded. After the storm, 30 properties that had been in its path on the flood plains of Etobicoke Creek were expropriated.
Property owners who thought they were not getting enough for their homes turned to Ms. Curtis, and she helped them get more money from the city. Instead of houses being rebuilt at the same location, however, a 35-acre park was created at the mouth of Etobicoke Creek.
Then it came time to name the park.
"First they were going to call it Curtis Park, that was the story, then [former Ontario premier]Les Frost told [former Metro chair]Fred Gardiner that they would have to call it Marie Curtis Park, because there was only one Marie Curtis. So they did that. . . . It is a living memorial to her. It always will be there," said Ms. McGee said, adding that she will tell this story at her mother's funeral today.
In 1962, five years before a second round of amalgamation saw Long Branch merged into the city of Etobicoke, Ms. Curtis left politics and moved with her husband to a retirement home near Flesherton in the Beaver Valley.
Until 1968, she was secretary-treasurer of the Mayors and Reeves of Ontario, the forerunner of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario. Until a stroke four years ago, she returned to Toronto for events and, on occasion, to appear at council meetings to speak out for Long Branch, Mr. Holyday said.
Ms. Curtis was predeceased by her husband, Bryce, a son and a grandson. She leaves her daughter, four grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.